A donkey-drawn cart makes its way through the gates of Lessos Farmers Dairy Co-operative Society premises in Nandi County some minutes past 10am.
Inside the cart are several milk cans, which Ezekiel Kiptum is delivering to the society, which collects the produce, chills and sells it to processors including the New KCC. Kiptum is one of the 6,687 registered farmers who rely on the society to market their milk.
Besides donkey carts, some farmers use motorcycles and vehicles to deliver their produce to the cooperative society, which collects some 10,000 litres of milk daily.
Miles away, at about the same time, Miriam and her husband Laban Talam, who own three dairy cows in Kabiyet, Nandi County, send their 15 litres of milk from the morning milking session to Kabiyet Dairies Company Ltd.
The co-operative also buys milk at between Sh20 and Sh25, provides storage facilities, markets and processes the commodity to make yoghurt and pasteurised fresh milk. It further offers services such as artificial insemination (AI) to farmers.
The cooperative societies are making it easier for up to 15,000 small farmers in Nandi, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Embu and Meru to sell their milk in the formal market.
David Ojwang, the director of programmes at Heifer International Kenya, says cooperatives are a key cog in driving the country’s dairy sector, especially for the smallholders.
He estimates that with proper extension services like AI, disease management and market, an average smallholder farmer can comfortably earn at least Sh500,000 annually from a few dairy cattle.
The organisation is working with the Embassy of Ireland in an initiative dubbed Dairy Sector Catalytic Growth Project, which aims at pushing the number of small farmers in the four counties under cooperatives to 24,000.
POTENTIAL TO UPLIFT SMALLHOLDER LIVELIHOODS
“We are providing strong extension services, management and leadership skills, and strategies to help transform the smallholders’ dairy activities from mere subsistence to profitable ventures through co-operatives,” he says.
Irish ambassador Fionnuala Quinlan said her country is keen on supporting Kenya’s dairy sector and the Sh26.5million project is part of that effort.
The institutions targeted are Lessos Farmers Dairy Co-operative Society, Kabiyet Dairies Company Ltd, Mburugu Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society in Embu, Chepkorio Dairy in Elgeyo-Marakwet and Katheri Dairy Farmers Co-operative Society in Meru.
“Ireland is one of the leading agriculture powerhouses globally, and the dairy sector is perhaps the most profitable in the country. The expertise that Ireland boasts in the sector can also be replicated in Kenya,” she says.
Out of the 7.5 billion litres of milk produced by Irish farmers annually, only 10 per cent is locally consumed, with 90 per cent being processed and exported, according to Lisa Doherty, the Deputy Head of Mission at the Irish Embassy.
Abraham Rugut, the chairman of Kabiyet Dairies, notes that the processor, which is expected to buy 300,000 litres of milk daily, will start producing cheese, butter, ghee, fermented milk, yoghurt and milk powder, which will be marketed locally, regionally and even internationally.
“The dairy sector has the potential to lift livelihoods of thousands of smallholder farmers in the county since 98 per cent of households in the rural areas own at least a dairy cow,” Nandi governor Stephen Sang said.
Caroline Koskei of Heifer International says they also aim at promoting climate-smart initiatives such as solar chilling systems, clean energy and environment-friendly waste management.
Benefits of cooperatives
- Cooperative societies play a key role in reducing poverty and promoting rural and national development.
- The institutions normally tend to improve the overall nutritional status of their members at a lower cost than buying through established retail food chains or small shops.
- Agriculture experts contend that cooperatives are the best way farmers can empower themselves, if the institutions embrace sound management practices.